These days, the 1980's have something of a bad reputation. There was Rick Astley,MC Hammer pants, Metallica (personal opinion here!), a minor recession, massive inflation, and a general air of bad taste was prevalent. However, you have to give the 1980's it's fair share of credit. Cars were quite bad in the 1970's; by the 1990's the automotive world was well on it's way to the glorious state it's in now. Cars of the 70's were awful almost entirely without exception; they were inefficient, unattractive, poorly performing, poorly built, crippled by emissions regulations, and filled with tacky tasteless features. The 1980's bridged that gap between then general feeling of Malaise in the 70's, and the revival of the automobile as we know it. It was a time when creativity in the field blossomed, and companies stepped out a bit and tried new things - sometimes to immense success. Sometimes not. Here we'll examine what I consider to be ten landmark cars of the 1980's, cars that helped to lead us forward towards the sophisticated market we enjoy today. Let me know what you think.
10) Porsche 928Let's get one thing out of the way about the 928: a large percentage of Porsche purists hate it. Purists believe that a real Porsche needs to have a flat six in the back, it needs to be air cooled, and it basically just needs to be called a 911. This means that Porsche purists pretty much hate everything Porsche has made which isn't a 911, which I think is truly absurd. The 928 was a major step away from the norm for Porsche. It was originally intended to supplant the 911 as Porsche's top-of-the-line halo car, but it never quite filled the sports car shoes it was intended to. The 928 was a dual-purpose car: it was meant to be a powerful, refined and composed Grand Tourer as well as a lithe, agile sports car. It was quite good at both, but that compromise might be what irks the 911 crowd. Or maybe that it had a water-cooled V8 mounted in the front; it's hard to tell. Mechanically, the 928 was a tour de force. It was absolutely earth shattering when it was introduced for model year 1977. It was also a powerful status symbol during the 1980's; it said "new money" louder than anything. The 928 had the guts to back it up, of course. The mechanical layout was ideal: a large V8 up front, with a racing-style transaxle in the back for properly even weight distribution meant despite it's considerably girth (the original 928 weighed in around 3200 pounds). The engine was a brand-new design, a water-cooled V8 with 4.5L of displacement and single overhead cams with 2 valves per cylinder. This V8 produced 228bhp and gave a top speed of 142mph. Later models switched to a 4.7L 16v V8 with 239bhp and a top speed of 146, which was good enough to earn it the title of "fastest production car in America" in 1983. The big news came in 1985, with the introduction of the 928S to the US market. It featured a completely redesigned 5.0L V8, now sporting dual overhead camshafts and four valves per cylinder. Power was up to a more impressive 288bhp, and in 1986 the 928 held the title of "world's fastest car" with a top speed of 172mph - ridiculously fast in those days. The final evolution of the 928 in the 80's - the 928 S4 - was a minor restyling to bring the car more up to date, as well as another bump in power (thanks to significant internal changes) to 316bhp. The 928 (especially in later S4 or GT/GTS guise) is one of those rare cars, like the 2nd-generation 300ZX, that never really seems to age. The clean, efficient styling - with it's drastic cab-rearward proportions, pop-forward headlights, and hunkered, solid stance - still turns heads today. Although Porsche abandoned the 928 concept when the final 928 GTS went out of production in 1995, it was a sign that even companies steeped in tradition and the "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" mentality can sometimes step out and try something different. They tried it again in 2002; it was called the Cayenne, and it made Porsche so much money that now they own Volkswagen. I guess trying new things doesn't always hurt.
9) Saab 900 TurboYes, I will readily admit my bias on this one - I own a 900 Turbo SPG. But when you think about it, it's hard to deny that the Saab 900 (and the Turbo in particular) was a cultural icon of the 80's. Things that Saab had been doing for a while - like front-wheel-drive, turbocharging, hatchbacks, strong safety equipment - all started making a whole lot of sense as the automotive landscape began to change in the 1980's. The 900 Turbo offered a little bit of everything for everyone. First, engines. The 900 Turbo began life with a 2.0L 8v turbocharged I4, which made 145bhp in US trim. 1985 saw the introduction of the 16 Valve Turbo I4 (on the SPG... not to brag or anything!) which was, coincidentally, the first car in the US to combine turbocharging and a four valve head on a four cylinder engine. And combine them it did to great effect - 175bhp was more than the 325e knew what to do with at the time, but when you stay out of the boost range, the 900 Turbo returned quite respectable fuel mileage. Then there was the ergonomically designed interior (controls laid out where they fell naturally to hand, something American companies are STILL figuring out), the option of seating four people in comfort or folding down the rear seats and being able to haul a couch, the fantastic handling in poor weather conditions, the remarkable high-speed stability, the supremely comfortable seats... It's hardly a surprise that yuppies were drawn to the 900 Turbo like moths to a blowtorch. Saab was on their A-game in the 80's, and the 900 Turbo is the best proof of that. It showed people that you didn't need to accept compromise in your luxury car.
8) Honda Civic CRXIt's harder to recall now, but the Honda CRX was an revolutionary car when it debuted in 1983. Based on the compact Civic architecture, the CRX was a small 2-door 2-seat hatchback coupe with two purposes: to be fun to drive, and to be economical. These were two mutually exclusive concepts in the eyes of most Americans at the time, so the CRX was quite well received when it arrived. There were two versions at launch: the HF (for High Fuel efficiency) had a 1.5L 8-valve lean burn four cylinder and returned amazing fuel economy numbers (41/50); the regular CRX had a 12-valve 1.6L with more pep and a more sporting demeanor, while still returning absurdly good fuel economy (29/35). Note: both fuel economy numbers are under the current EPA calculation method, not the one used at the time. A CRX HF really can go 50 miles on a gallon of gas on the highway, which is 5mpg better than a Prius - with only one battery. The CRX revolutionized the idea that a commuter vehicle had to be an awful torture box. It was nimble, immaculately assembled, fun to drive, extremely economical, funky looking, and people loved them. When CRX sales started in the US, there were drastic shortages of the CRX and dealerships were getting away with charging 2,000 to 5,000 dollar premiums over sticker - on a $10,000 Honda! When does that happen any more? The CRX evolved gradually until it's final year of production in 1991, gaining the well-regarded D16A6 16-valve engine in the Si sports model along the way, and getting a minor facelift in 1988. The del Sol that replaced the CRX in 1992 never quite filled the illustrious shoes of it's predecessor, and to this day the tiny CRX is still extremely popular with motorsports enthusiasts and frugal commuters alike.
7) Acura LegendFrom the perspective of today, the Acura Legend really isn't that interesting of a car. It's a mid-size Japanese luxury sedan, with a V6, 4-speed automatic, and front wheel drive. What else is new? Well, for one thing, the Acura Legend was the car that started an entire genre we take for granted - the Japanese luxury car. When the Legend was launched in 1986, people couldn't believe that Honda had the audacity to make a $20,000 luxury car. They dismissed it as a gimmick, they said it would never stick and was doomed for failure - no one was going to pay that much for a Japanese car. Heaven forbid. Well, I guess they were wrong. Acura's been around for 23 years now, and they've launched a whole fleet of imitators - in fact, Lexus (Toyota) and Infiniti (Nissan) were both created directly in response to the dominant force of Acura on the market. And the success of the brand - and the genre as a whole - lies with how overwhelmingly competent the Legend was compared to what it was competing against at the time. It wasn't scorched-earth-fast - power came from a single-cam 24 valve 2.7L V6 with 160bhp - but it was sewing machine smooth, whisper quiet, refined as anything on the road, and almost never broke. The Germans took notice immediately - as did everyone else. Without the Legend, Lexus and Infiniti never would've entered the market, and the automotive landscape in the luxury realm would look quite a bit different - and quite a bit worse - than it does today. Bravo, Honda.
6) C4 CorvetteCorvettes have always been as American as apple pie and frivolous lawsuits; it's just that up until the C4, they'd never actually been any good. The 1984 (C4 generation) Corvette was designed to show that America could indeed build a world-class sports car, and it did that to great effect. It was an entirely clean-sheet design over the previous (C3) generation Corvettes, which had been in production from 1968 up until 1982. By model year '82, the Corvette was a choked up pastiche of it's former self - the base engine only made 165bhp (for shame!) and the competition was moving onwards and upward. So when the C4 arrived on the market in 1984, it shook things up. The chassis was all new, boasting considerably higher torsional rigidity numbers than the flimsy older car, and vastly more sophisticated suspension. The engine, the L83 "Crossfire" (basically a mix of carburation and mechanical fuel injection) was a carryover from the C3, and produced an adequate-for-1984 205bhp. This rather sad motor was swapped for the considerably better port-injected L98 TPI in 1985, which made 230 and then later 245-250bhp. The suspension was unique, utilizing transverse composite leaf springs in the rear instead of coils. Bodywork was no longer fibreglass but FRP (Fiber Reinforced Plastic) to conserve weight. The transmission was the most interesting part of the package: a Doug Muncie-designed "4+3" was basically a four-speed manual with an electronically engaged overdrive for the top three gears to keep fuel economy reasonable. This was somewhat problematic, and was later ditched for a more traditional ZF 6-speed manual. Long story short, the C4 Corvette - at least with the stiff-riding Z51 suspension package - kicked ass and took names on a large scale. It was capable of accelerating to sixty in under six seconds, pulling nearly 1.0 g's of lateral acceleration, and stopping like it had dropped an anchor into the tarmac. It also provecd to the world that when we put our minds to it, we could build an absolutely top-shelf product.
5) Jeep CherokeeThe media tends to credit the success of the sport utility vehicle to Ford's Ranger-based Explorer from 1990, but the truth is that the segment was popularized by Jeep's Cherokee, which debuted way back in 1984. The Cherokee (XJ chassis) replaced the aging truck-based model of the same name. The Cherokee used a unique (for the time) unibody construction to make the ride more civil, but it's off-road capabilities were still quite impressive. While it was a pretty simple vehicle, it must be noted that the AMC 242ci I6 under the hood is one of the all-time great motors: powerful, torque, robust, and nearly indestructible. It also gave the Cherokee an indecent turn of speed, relatively speaking for the time. Families in need of a useful, practical vehicle flocked to the XJ Cherokee in great hordes, spawning a legion of imitators that have never really filled the Cherokee's shoes. The XJ chassis Cherokee was in production up until 2001, when it was replaced by the Liberty - which many Jeep fans admit was not really a step fowards for the brand. What more needs to be said?
4) Chrysler MinivansWe're getting closer to the end here, and the cars need less and less explanation. It is impossible to overstate the importance of the Chrysler minivans; they created an entire (wildly popular) market segment as well as brought cash-strapped Chrysler back from the verge of existence. The funny thing is, there wasn't anything magical about them: they were just stretched K-car (Aries, Reliant) chassis with a boxy body stuck on top. But the brave first step by Chrysler lead the company out of near-collapse, stimulated the economy, and gave an entire generation of children something to hate when they grew up. The vans themselves aren't noteworthy as much as the segment they created and the good they did for Chrysler. It IS worth noting, however, that these were coming out at the same time Chrysler was busy turbocharging everything they sold, and the minivans weren't immune from this. It's possible to get a ChryCo minivan with a 2.2L or 2.5L 8v Turbo I4 and a 5-speed manual, which is just as easy to modify as any other turbo Mopar engine - and to great effect. If you need proof... perhaps this'll do: